Sunday, March 06, 2022

Josep, on

Josep Bartoli was a Spanish caricaturist and veteran of the Spanish Civil War, who arrived in France with the first wave of Spanish refugees in February 1939. The Germans came in May of 1940. Unlike the Spaniards, they intended to stay. Despite the horrible conditions in the prison-like refugee camp, a friendship blossoms between Bartoli and a young gendarme in Aurel’s animated feature Josep, which premieres Wednesday on

Bartoli and his fellow refugees get a decidedly cold reception in France. Nobody wants to hear their warnings that fascism is on the march. Instead, they brutalize the camp inmates. Serge is not comfortable with any of this. He is also fascinated by the drawings Bartoli scratches out on the walls of camps crude buildings (constructed by the inmates themselves). First, he secretly passes Bartoli pencils and paper. As their clandestine camaraderie grows, Serge agrees to search for Bartoli’s pregnant wife, Maria Valdes, whom he sent to France before the Spanish Republic completely collapsed.

Most of screenwriter Jean-Louis Milesi’s narrative unfolds in flashbacks, from Serge’s dying lips to his grandson, who also happens to be a talented artist. It is an intriguing tale that directly confronts France’s Vichy-era history. Yet, it is not militant in its ideology. In fact, in later postwar scenes, Bartoli rather ruefully reflects that he could have shared a fox-hole with Trotsky’s assassins.

Ironically, Serge is a much more sharply drawn than Bartoli, who is unflaggingly presented as a distant paragon of virtue. In contrast, Serge’s evolution from confused kid to resistance partisan is pretty cool stuff.

Josep is also quite stylish. We see a number of Bartoli’s almost baroquely detailed drawings are represented in the film, but the animation is more reflective of Aurel’s illustrative approach. There is also some nice Spanish and Catalan-tinged music that nicely suits the elegiac vibe.

is intelligently written and elegantly animated. It is also a timely reminder, as if we needed one right now, that war is not like dancing the tango. It only requires one party’s willingness. Recommended for fans of adult animation (there is little objectionable material but the themes are deadly serious), Josep starts streaming on this Wednesday (3/9).